Wikipedia:English uses plain letters

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Over the years, with translating articles among several languages, many foreign words have been brought into the English Wikipedia as though they were actually English-language words defined in some official English-language dictionary. A typical clue, in spotting a non-English word, is to watch for accent marks or other changes to letters, beyond the standard 26 letters in the English alphabet. English words almost never have accent marks, or tics, or dots on the letters.


Some examples of English words that have slipped into foreign spellings are:

  • Zurich   - often seen as "Zürich" (with the umlaut on the "u");
  • Yucatan - often seen as "Yucatán" with the accent mark.
  • Iao         - seen as Hawaiian "ʻĪao" with accent & bar.

None of those words, in English, is spelled with anything other than the 26 letters of the English alphabet.


Other words retain their diacritics:

Psychological misspelling[edit]

When writers speak several languages, they might apply the pronunciation rules of one language into the manner of speaking, and spelling, those words in the English equivalents. In the German language, the double-dot umlaut over some vowels typically changes the meaning (and pronunciation) of a word, such as from singular to plural. In the Spanish language, the accent mark is critical in distinguishing the meaning of words: a common example compares the words papa and papá used to mean "potato" and "daddy" respectively, big difference.

Because of such big differences in meaning (and pronunciation), it is easy to bring the accent marks or umlauts back into the English Wikipedia, as though those marks are critical in English. However, they typically are not: English words are pronounced by pre-reading the sentence to see what meaning of a word best fits the context, then the word is (re-)pronounced to fit the general meaning of the sentence. For example:

  • Nice people can be met at the beaches in Nice, France.

The French city is pronounced as /ns/ (or "Neese"), once the word "France" is recognized, by reading ahead in the text.

Continuing the pronunciation (and spelling) rules of another language, into English text, is a psychological mindset, and it might be difficult to shift gears into the English mindset, where some words are spelled alike, but pronounced differently, depending on reading ahead in the sentence. Anyway, the easiest clue to straying outside the English lexicon, is to look for accent marks, or tics, or dots on the letters, which are very rare for English-language words. The problem is not just in articles coming from one particular language, but instead, foreign words are being embedded in articles from German, French, Spanish, Hawaiian (etc.) with no one language as the source of the widespread problem.

See also[edit]